One of the most pervasive myths that surround autism is that a child who has it will never show affection and can’t accept getting affection from anyone. There have been literally piles of stories of parents taking their child to a psychologist and the doctor telling the parents that your child can’t possibly be autistic because he gives you a hug now and then. While this opinion is just flat wrong, studies have shown that autistic children do process sensory touch differently than a non-autistic child and that this is where the myth that autistic children don’t like to be touched comes from.
Autism and the way it affects kids really runs the gamut from light to severe. An excellent point to remember when dealing with an autistic child is that every single autistic child is different and will react to almost everything differently. Here are some tips for showing your autistic child affection, and remember, your experience may vary.
Trial and error. For some kids with more severe autism, a simple, random hug can be sensory overload. They can become agitated, upset and even violent if they are touched without prior warning. You will probably need to have a trial and error approach when it comes to hugging and touching your autistic child. Some methods may be responded to in a positive way, other ways won’t be. You just have to try and see.
Let the child come to you. If you think your autistic child needs a hug, instead of rushing into his personal space and just taking one, speak to the child, bend down to his/her level and open your arms. Smile and let the child know that they are loved and see what the response is. If they don’t come running in for a hug, don’t be offended, it may just not have been the right time for the child.
Try hand signals. If your child is too sensitive to hugs or touches to show affection, you can try positive reinforcement in addition to hand singles. Things like a simple thumbs up accompanied by a smile and some positive comments can let the child know they are loved and what they did was good. You can also offer the child a chance to hug during these situations and they might just take you up on it.
Make sure everyone is on the same page. If you, the parents, are starting to make progress on getting your autistic child to be more affectionate, you don’t need a sibling, teacher or grandparent who doesn’t know or understand your child’s boundaries messing up all of your hard work. If you’ve begun to implement an affection program with your autistic child, make sure everyone who would possibly try to hug or touch him/her knows the rules. Consistency and repetition are crucial to autistic kids, and this applies to a situation like this, as well.
Trying to figure out a puzzling condition like autism can be a lifelong challenge. For many parents, the affection issue may be the biggest. But with patience and learning to go by the child’s cues and not your own, you will be able to connect with your child in a deep and meaningful way.
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